As a pastor for 30 years, I’ve frequently heard phrases in prayers and songs that tend to bother me. I do not question the sincerity of the expressions, just the biblical accuracy of the content. So, here are five of my pet peeves. These are not any mountain to die on – just little irritations I need to address.
Often I hear people pray something like this: “Lord, we invite You here today. Please come among us.” Huh? I do not get this one. First, God is always there before we show up. He is already among us. In my view, we are there by His invitation of grace. He does not come because we decided to get together, and then granted Him verbal permission to join us. It is an odd view of God to me. It is as if He is peeking in the window waiting for the right time to step into the service and bless us.
Granted, Revelation 3:20 does speak of Christ knocking on the door of hearts (or the church gathered), desiring that we would fellowship in intimacy with Him. However, even in this passage, the “opening of the door” is more than a trite verbal formula at the beginning of the service. This “invitation” involves a recognition of our lukewarm condition, a rejection of our self-sufficiency, and a collective desire for transforming intimacy – expressed through repentance.
For what it’s worth, my feeling is that we should pray, “Lord, thank You for calling us by Your grace to this place today as we gather in Your name. Let us hear Your invitation to our hearts to worship in Spirit and truth, with hearts of complete surrender.” That seems more accurate to me.
The Falling Spirit
People who know me know my discomfort with the traditional rendering of the song “Spirit of the Living God.” To sing, “Spirit of the living God, fall afresh on me” is an earnest and sincere plea. However, after Pentecost the Spirit is not hanging out in the clouds waiting to jump down on us. He is in our hearts. He is in our midst. He seals us until the day of redemption. This song always makes me wonder about our view of the Holy Spirit. It is as if we think He is hiding in the rafters waiting to pounce at the right moment of emotional fervor.
Every time I lead this song, I change the words to “Spirit of the living God, work afresh in me.” Better yet, we should sing, “Spirit of the living God, work afresh in us” (I’ll explain this later). The heart of this song is a desire for the Spirit to “melt us, mold us, fill us, and use us.” From a New Testament standpoint, He does this work from within us as we surrender completely to Him. So, the key is not that we coerce Him down from somewhere “above” but that we give Him complete control through the surrender of our will to His dwelling within.
The House of the Lord
When we stand and greet the people with these words, “Welcome to the house of the Lord!” it makes the hair on the back of my neck stand up (thin as it is). I know I am probably too harsh, but the building is not the house of the Lord. It is a building. There is nothing holy about the bricks, cement, or metal. Usually, when someone says this, they are referring to the church building, which is Old Testament theology.
The people are “the building” and our hearts are His temple (1 Corinthians 3:17; 2 Corinthians 6:16; Ephesians 2:21). The church flourished for centuries without buildings. The building is not a “church” (literally – an “assembly”) until people show up. In fact, a focus on brick and mortar can potentially undermine a proper emphasis on the priesthood of every believer and the importance of implementing life and mission beyond the walls of a building.
Over the years, I have avoided this word. Most people seem to interpret it as a command. When they hear “Lay, men!” – that’s what they do – just lay around. In truth, the primary New Testament word for Christians is “saints,” which means “holy ones.” That is the right idea of who we are!
The term “lay” comes from the Greek “laos” – or the “people of God”, which is ALL of us. The clergy/lay dichotomy is more a leftover from the Catholic tradition. The downside is that we get the idea that some people are called to minister, and the rest are sitting on the sidelines cheering them on and tossing a tip in the offering plate. The fact is that every member is a minister. We are all called to full-time ministry. Or, as I often say, our jobs are our vocation; our calling is our avocation.
I, Me, and My!
In my book Fresh Encounters, I write about the fact that “rugged individualism” has robbed us of the biblical understanding of community, especially when it comes to our calling to pray together. This same individualistic spirit shows up in our songs. Take time to notice how many songs use the personal pronouns of “I, me, and my” rather than “we, us, and our.” No doubt, the Lord works mightily in individual hearts surrendered to Him. However, when we are together in community, it seems odd to sing songs as if they were solos – or with the feeling that no one else is in the room with us.
Frequently, I change the individualistic words to plural pronouns, reflecting the fact that we are together, singing among a fellowship of other saints. This adds a wonderful dimension of community to our worship and helps me appreciate the joy of belonging to the body of Christ.
Best and Biblical
So, there it is. I got all that off my chest. Maybe I am just too meticulous. However, I believe it is good to at least question some of these common ideas, as I think they are not the best or most accurate representation of what Christ has in mind when we gather to worship in His name. And – when we worship, He deserves the best, most biblical expressions we can offer.
Copyright © 2015 Daniel Henderson. All rights reserved.